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Crues missile on target - Baxter's boys are on title charge


Studs up: Cliftonville striker Davy McDaid feels the close attention of Crusaders defender Craig McClean

Studs up: Cliftonville striker Davy McDaid feels the close attention of Crusaders defender Craig McClean

Studs up: Cliftonville striker Davy McDaid feels the close attention of Crusaders defender Craig McClean

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter was delighted with how his players stood up strongly to claim three points in the festive north-Belfast derby points at Solitude.

Paul Heatley's second-half strike proved enough to sink Cliftonville on a day when neither side delivered much in the way of quality football - not that Baxter was too concerned about that after beating the Reds for the second time this season, after a 4-1 win at Seaview just six weeks ago.

"We knew the importance of defending well in this game and we did that," said Baxter.

"Richard Clarke and Declan Caddell competed superbly in the centre of the park and our defenders did brilliantly to shackle Joe Gormley and Davy McDaid.

"Our goalkeeper, Sean O'Neill, made terrific saves at key times and I felt that we managed things very well indeed.

"It's only three points, I've told the players that, but it's three points on the back of a couple of other decent results and we've put a good little run together."

A somewhat tepid first-half saw both sides threaten to make things interesting without ever sparking into life in the final third.

O'Neill's ninth-minute save from Davy McDaid proving to be the only shot that either team was able to muster on target during the opening 45 minutes.

Cliftonville were then forced to reshuffle things slightly when an injury to Barry Johnston forced the midfielder's exit from the pitch on a stretcher after just 12 minutes - and from the stadium on-board an ambulance and it was confirmed later that he has suffered a broken kneecap - with Jude Winchester, who had been left out of the starting line up, stepping in to partner Ryan Catney in the home engine room.

The Crues had always looked menacing when attacking down either flank and they looked poised to make the breakthrough when Gavin Whyte skipped past Jaimie McGovern only to be denied by an inch-perfect last-ditch challenge from Ronan Scannell.

It was more of the same after the interval as McDaid produced a shot which, despite clipping the top of the crossbar, never had O'Neill duly troubled, but it wasn't long before the breakthrough finally came and, typically, the impressive Whyte was heavily involved.

He ate up wide acres of space that was afforded to him on the flank and teed up Heatley, whose low strike crept into the bottom corner beyond the outstretched boot of Cliftonville goalkeeper Conor Devlin.

He then blocked a fierce Jordan Owens drive as the Crues endeavoured to kill their hosts off, but, in truth, Cliftonville never really looked like levelling - their nearest effort coming when McDaid seized upon a Joe Gormley cross only to see his overhead kick sail directly into O'Neill's grasp.

The Crusaders goalkeeper made sure of the points with a minute remaining when he got down superbly to repel a well-struck Winchester effort and ensure that there was to be no way back for the champions.

"I felt that we limited Crusaders, but we made wrong decisions at the other end," said Reds boss Tommy Breslin.

"We had opportunities to shoot or passes to pick, but just took the wrong choice too many times."

Belfast Telegraph